Ian Hewson, water and waste water solutions manager at Business Stream, advises on ways to prevent your business from suffering from freezing temperatures.

After 2010 brought with it the coldest winter in over 100 years, many were warning of another difficult festive period in 2011. However, when it came to December the heavy snow storms and sub-zero temperatures of 2010 were nowhere to be seen and winter 2011 turned out to be the mildest in over a decade.

Those that were hoping this trend would continue were given a shock when the snow and ice returned at the beginning of the month. To top this, meteorologists are already predicting a festive period to rival that of two years ago in terms of temperature and weather conditions.

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These predictions should serve as a wake-up call and a warning against complacency for those Scottish companies not already prepared for winter. With £15 million per day having been lost from the Scottish economy during the 2010 ‘big freeze’, the Scottish business community cannot afford to be caught out again this year.

It’s because of this that Scottish businesses and public sector bodies must be switched on to the threat that these conditions bring. All too often companies forget that winter is on its way and as a result fail to prepare properly – understandable given the opportunities to increase sales and cashflow at, what is for many, the busiest period of the year.

The snow which fell over the weekend was a warning shot to businesses. We responded to 1,200 emergency calls in 2010 from Scottish organisations suffering the impact of frozen and burst pipes. To avoid the risk of this happening again, Scottish business owners cannot be complacent about the potential risks of another bitter winter.

The good news is that it’s relatively easy to protect against frozen pipes, but businesses and public bodies have to make sure they know what to do and when to take action so as not to be caught out again.

Our free winter alert service will update customers with weather information and also highlight steps which can be taken to help significantly reduce the risk of damage to property and the cost of lost business. These measures are often cheap and easy to initiate ranging from making sure pipes and water meters are lagged to leaving heating on at low levels when premises are empty at weekends and over the holiday period.

Being prepared is far and away the best way to prevent against burst pipes and the subsequent flooding, since the cold can come in very quickly and leave little time to react – particularly if it happens over the weekend.

The impact of burst pipes can be ruinous for businesses of any size, since premises can be shut or severely restricted for days on end, so we’d always advise people to take whichever pre-emptive steps are available.

Below are a few tips to help guard against the winter weather ruining your Christmas:

1. Leave heating on at a low temperature, and ensure heaters are well maintained and working properly.

2. Check loft insulation is in good condition, lag exposed pipes and insulate water meters.

4. Sign up to the winter alerts service at Business Stream.

5. Drain your water system before closing for winter or in advance of pre-notified freezing temperatures, and shut off supply at the stop cock to reduce the risk of internal leaks.

6. If a pipe freezes or bursts, turn the water supply off at the stop valve immediately, and switch off immersion and central heating.

7. Gently heat any frozen sections – a heated cloth wrapped round a pipe is ideal, but never switch on immersion heater or central heating, and don’t apply a direct flame.

8. Turn on all hot and cold taps to drain the system and minimise damage. Let any solid fuel fires die down.

9. Switch off electricity supply at the main if there’s a risk that water could come into contact with electrical wiring or fittings.

10. Find a reputable plumber.

11. Let your water supplier know what’s happened. It might be taken into account when your bill is calculated.

Taking some of these pre-emptive early measures can prevent a messy and expensive clean-up job after the event – no-one can guarantee the weather, but it is possible to give yourself the best chance of escaping the full brunt of a severe winter unscathed.